Are you looking to further your medical career in an English speaking country? Then you’ll need to sit an exam that measures your English language proficiency, such as an IELTS Academic exam. The test incorporates listening, reading, writing and speaking.
The IELTS writing test is 60 minutes long and is divided into two parts. Doctors, nurses and allied health professionals will be asked to write two texts. The first piece of writing is a report on some data, such as statistical tables or graphs. The second piece is an essay, in which you must respond to an opinion or statement about a particular topic.
You will be marked on a range of criteria. These include whether you have answered the question set, used an appropriate style of language, and organised your thoughts clearly. You will also be marked on grammatical accuracy, range of vocabulary, and the ability to connect ideas, sentences, and paragraphs correctly.
IELTS writing test paper
IELTS writing - part one
In the first part of the IELTS writing test, you are expected to write a short descriptive report based on visual information or data.
The good news is that all the content that you need to include in your answer will be contained in the diagram(s) that you are given. These could be pie charts, bar charts, line graphs, tables or a mixture of two or three of these diagrams.
You are not required to explain or interpret the data in front of you. Just report the facts in front.
How to describe the diagrams
Try to begin your writing with the following in mind – imagine that after you have finished writing your answer, the examiner will attempt to recreate the diagram you were given from your description.
For the examiner to be able to do this, you will need to include some or all of the following:
- Describe trends: e.g. ‘The rate of inflation rose steadily between 1970 and 1980’.
- Make comparisons and group information: e.g. ‘In both London and Paris slightly fewer people used the train in 1970 than in 1980’.
- Point out notable features: e.g. ‘It is interesting to note that despite a downward slump, there was a sharp rise in sales in 1975’.
- Report numbers and values accurately: e.g. ‘In 1970 64% of men and 17% of women voted for a change in policy’.
- Provide an overview: e.g. ‘The life expectancy of both men and women has increased since 1950’.
If you can manage this, you will be well on your way to successfully completing the task.
Organising your paragraphs
Organising your writing and making it easier to read is a very simple thing to do and it can have a positive effect.
Very often, people do not use paragraphing in their IELTS writing task. This leaves the examiner faced with a “sea” of writing with no breaks from start to finish. This is not good, as your writing can become difficult to read.
We strongly recommend that you make your paragraphing as clear as possible by separating each paragraph with an empty line. This will leave the reader with no doubt where one paragraph ends and another begins.
You should have a paragraph for a short introduction, a paragraph for each graph that you are describing and a paragraph for your ending. If there’s only one graph to be described, then you should split your writing into two or maybe three paragraphs for the one graph, with each paragraph talking about a specific feature or idea.
Remember when you begin a new idea, a point that contrasts one you were just discussing, or when you are raising a related but separate point, it’s probably time to start a new paragraph.
Structuring your content
The introduction: re-state the description of the diagrams you were given. You don’t need to do too much here – look for key verbs and nouns then consider how you can paraphrase them to show you have understood the question. Paraphrasing is when you use a different set of words to say something very similar to the original.
The main body of your essay: this needs to provide the detail of what the diagrams show. This is likely to include some or all of the following features: describe trends, make comparisons, group information, report numbers and values accurately, and point out anything that is notable. How many paragraphs you write will depend on the type and number of diagrams you are given.
In your conclusion, you can give your overview. This should be one or two sentences reporting the main features or trends. It should avoid detail and provide an overview of the diagram.
IELTS writing - part two
In the second part of the IELTS writing test, you are asked to write an essay on an academic subject. You do not need any specialist knowledge.
Your essay should be at least 250 words long. The recommended time to complete this section is about 40 minutes. As in part one, there is no choice in subject or title. Everyone taking the IELTS exam on that day is set the same essay question.
IELTS writing question types
The question types follow three main patterns with small variations. They are:
- Argumentative - an essay with a 'for' and an 'against' side.
- Problem and solution - you should explain how a situation has happened and suggest ways to solve it.
- Opinion - usually an opinion of a topic from your point of view.
Planning your answer
Under the pressure of an IELTS exam, students often skip planning to save themselves time. Don’t make this mistake. Organising your thoughts can have a vital impact on your final score, because it makes your script more coherent.
If you’re unsure how to plan, here are some tips. Read the question below and quickly write down any ideas you have on a piece of paper. This should take around five minutes.
“Some people believe that unpaid community service should be a compulsory part of high school programmes (for example, working for a charity, improving the neighbourhood or teaching sports to younger children). To what extent do you agree or disagree?”
Now look at the two plans below. Which one do you think is better?
In this instance, (b) would be the better option. Here’s why (b) is better…
Although plan (a) has some good ideas, they are not organised into paragraphs and there are no examples. This means that during the IELTS exam, the writer will have to pause to structure their argument. This takes away from the time they could spend focussing on getting their vocabulary and grammar to a high standard, which is necessary for a good score.
Plan (b) is divided into three main ideas with at least three examples to support each idea. Each idea can now be used as the main focus of a paragraph, which is a good way to organise your essay. Because there are at least three examples for each paragraph, you shouldn’t struggle to write 250 words. So when you go into your writing exam, make sure you plan for the first five minutes – you won’t regret it!
IELTS writing tips
Learn how much writing 250 words and more is in your handwriting, as counting the words at the end of the test can eat into your writing time.
Do not try and use a memorised essay as you will never be able to accurately remember one for every type of question and you will make mistakes.
While planning, and indeed while writing too, keep asking yourself, “Am I answering the question?” and “Am I keeping to the topic?” This way you will stay focussed and the essay will not need extensive revision.
Leave enough time to edit and check your essay. In particular, look for word agreement, grammatical accuracy at a fundamental level, and articles. These are basic and the penalties are greater than a mistake with a more advanced piece of grammar.
Find out more
Are you a doctor, nurse or allied health professional looking for help and support with your IELTS exam? Take a look at our related articles about IELTS exams:
- IELTS reading, writing, speaking and listening skills
- Get your IELTS listening score to 7.0 or higher
- Get your IELTS speaking score to 7.0 or higher
- Get your IELTS reading score to 7.0 or higher
- How NMC rule changes to IELTS writing are good news for international nurses
*This post was originally published on 01/08/2016 and has since been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.